4:54 PM EDT, October 18, 2012
A plan to move a school planetarium across Indianapolis is generating new criticism, and this time it’s not about the hefty price tag.
James Sweitzer, owner of Science Communications Consultants, a company that specializes in planetarium restoration, said he has seen a proposal that would move the planetarium dome from inside Broad Ripple High School into an auditorium at Arsenal Technical High School.
"It's unusual to move a dome,” said Sweitzer. “In fact, I can't remember that being done in my professional practice. I think one has to be very careful about the conditions that you put a planetarium dome in, and it's not clear to me that the proper attention has been paid to how to mount this planetarium."
The current planetarium inside the high school has not been used for nearly two years, and the technology is outdated.
"This is an example of technology that, at one time, was state of the art,” said IPS spokesperson John Althardt. “Clearly, it's not any longer."
Sweitzer said he supports the IPS plan to upgrade the planetarium in general.
"Their plans for a digital planetarium makes sense,” Sweitzer said. “I mean, our children need to participate in seeing the universe in the ways that a digital planetarium can do that."
However, Sweitzer said he has seen the IPS plan and it's not ideal.
"I think there are really good ways to do this,” he said. “This just may not be the best way."
IPS plans to move the dome to Arsenal Tech so that students at the math and science Magnet School will be able to use it for several subjects.
"We'll be able to use it for other science applications beyond astronomy, including botany, biology and other uses that we just clearly could not have with the existing technology here at Broad Ripple," Althardt said.
The new location will also allow easier access for public events and elementary school field trips.
Despite the apparent benefits, the school board has already delayed the plan once, questioning why it should pay an estimated $654,000, much of it due to the relocation.
Now, Sweitzer hopes to put the brakes on it again, due to several serious unanswered questions.
"Things like how close the audience is, what the sound is going to be like, what the light is going to be like, all of these are important,” Sweitzer said. “It's not clear to me that those questions have been addressed properly."
Althardt said IPS has done its homework.
"We're confident that, with the architects, with the consultants that we've worked with, with the feedback that we've gotten from the community already, that we will have a state of the art facility that will not only be good for our academic programs but be a new community opportunity that we haven't had in the past," Althardt said.
The IPS school board is scheduled to vote on the planetarium relocation during the next meeting on Tuesday.